A guest blog by Asma Lateef, Director Bread for the World Institute
At their annual summit, held this time in Muskoka, Canada, on June 25-26, 2010, G-8 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. They also launched the new “Muskoka Initiative,” an effort that will invest $5 billion over five years in maternal and child health, focusing on MDGs 4 (child mortality) and 5 (maternal health). Nearly 9 million children die before their fifth birthday from preventable and treatable causes, and women in developing countries are 100 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in developed countries. The Muskoka Initiative’s focus on improving health systems and supporting key interventions during pregnancy through early childhood is vital.
A third of all deaths of children younger than five are related to hunger and malnutrition. The G-8 leaders’ Declaration mentioned the connection to malnutrition by reaffirming the 2009 G-8 Summit’s L’Aquila Food Security Initiative to reduce hunger by boosting the agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers and taking steps to reduce malnutrition. The Muskoka Initiative must be closely coordinated with the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative. Given the devastating impact of malnutrition on maternal and child mortality, a lot could be done to scale up evidence-based maternal and child nutrition interventions through the Muskoka Initiative itself, focusing on the critical window during pregnancy and the first two years of life. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.
Both the Muskoka Initiative and the L’Aquila Initiative depend on world leaders living up to their commitments. For the first time since the G-8 made commitments at its 2005 Summit in Gleneagles to double aid both to Africa and globally by 2010, the G-8 leaders’ declaration from Muskoka left out any specific reference to these pledges. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the G-8 are off track on both targets, especially the Africa target. Also, only $6.5 billion has been disbursed or allocated towards the $22 billion pledged in L’Aquila to be made available by 2012. Without the political will to follow through on aid commitments, progress toward the MDGs will continue to be slow and uneven, and these initiatives -- which are all urgently needed -- will be left to compete for precious resources with other important priorities.
The Obama administration has demonstrated real leadership in the area of global hunger, launching its global hunger and food security initiative Feed the Future and garnering support for the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative. It needs to work with its G-8 partners to make sure that promises are kept. The Muskoka Accountability Report is a good first step, but a report alone cannot deliver on promises.
The administration has also launched its Global Health Initiative, GHI, which complements the Muskoka Initiative’s focus on strengthening health systems and reaching women and children. The administration should now work with Congress to make sure that Feed the Future and the GHI have congressional backing and are funded at the requested levels.
While it is clear that G-8 leaders are preoccupied with deficits, it is also clear that deficits will not be substantially affected by these aid commitments, which represent a minute and shrinking portion of the budgets of G-8 countries. It is equally clear that the lives and prospects of hundreds of millions of poor people, particularly women and young children, hang in the balance.